From Life at the Royal Academy of Arts
This exhibition provides an examination of life drawing, in its historical context and its use today. In the past, all students of art, including those at the Royal Academy’s own school, would have to spend many hours drawing both from life and from casts of classical sculptures. Several oil paintings of such classes are on display in the first room, alongside a fascinating photograph by Liane Lang, which shows a cast of a flayed horse apparently being studied by a student, who is in fact a latex cast. With its glowing colours reminiscent of the oil paintings it is displayed alongside, this is a fascinating glimpse of the changing role of life drawing for modern artists.
The show continues to interrogate this question of what life drawing can be, with plaster casts from the Academy’s collection interspersed among the other exhibits. An entire room is devoted to Jeremy Deller’s Iggy Pop Life Class, where the legendary musician was drawn by Deller and 21 other artists, with a range of the results on display here. It’s always fascinating to see how different artists react to the same subject, and here there is vast array of styles on offer. In some drawings the musician is sketched like a technical study, with mannequin-like joints, whereas others have a keen sense of light with fine shading and lines almost in the style of an etching.
Questioning of the past extends to works by Cai Guo-Qiang, who created the video piece One Thousand Youngsters Drawing David – which as the title suggests shows a thousand students sketching plaster casts of the head of Michelangelo’s David – and Yinka Shonibare, who has covered Greek statues in Indonesian-inspired batik. There is also a selection of various contemporary portraits done from life. The re-examination of the female figure by female artists is only hinted at briefly, but includes some extremely striking works such as Jenny Saville’s uncompromising Entry, and Chantal Joffe’s Self-Portrait with Hand on Hip.
Downstairs, there is a selection of pieces using virtual reality devices, which unfortunately come across more like advertisements for the devices themselves, impressive though they are, rather than works of art in their own right. Overall, though, this show provides a fascinating exploration of the possibilities of life drawing for the modern artist, through the lens of its historical ubiquity.
Featured Image: Iggy Pop Life Class by Jeremy Deller. 2016
Photo: Elena Olivo / Brooklyn Museum
From Life is at the Royal Academy of Arts from 11th December 2017 until 11th March 2018. For further information or to book visit the exhibition website here.